Plastics industry has been overlooked as a major source of greenhouse gases and
a major contributor to global climate change, warns CIEL report.
“At current levels, greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C,” the Centre for International Environment Law says.
Carroll Muffett, President, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL):
“Humanity has less than twelve years to cut global greenhouse emissions in half and just three decades to eliminate them almost entirely. The massive and rapidly growing emissions from plastic production and disposal undermine that goal and jeopardize global efforts to keep climate change below 1.5 degrees of warming. It has long been clear that plastic threatens the global environment and puts human health at risk. This report demonstrates that plastic, like the rest of the fossil economy, is putting the climate at risk as well. Because the drivers of the climate crisis and the plastic crisis are closely linked, so to are their solutions: humanity must end its reliance on fossil fuels and on fossil plastics that the planet can no longer afford.”
The plastic pollution crisis that overwhelms our oceans is also a significant and growing threat to the Earth’s climate. At current levels, greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C.
With the petrochemical and plastic industries planning a massive expansion in production, the problem is on track to get much worse.
By 2050, annual emissions could grow to more than 2.75 billion metric tons of CO2e from plastic production and incineration. Greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C.
By 2050, the greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach over 56 gigatons—10-13 percent of the entire remaining carbon budget. If plastic production and use grow as currently planned, by 2030, these emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year—equivalent to the emissions released by more than 295 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants. By 2050, the cumulation of these greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach over 56 gigatons—10–13 percent of the entire remaining carbon budget.
Nearly every piece of plastic begins as a fossil fuel, and greenhouse gases are emitted at each of each stage of the plastic lifecycle: 1) fossil fuel extraction and transport, 2) plastic refining and manufacture, 3) managing plastic waste, and 4) plastic’s ongoing impact once it reaches our oceans, waterways, and landscape.
This report examines each of these stages of the plastic lifecycle to identify the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, sources of uncounted lifecycle are almost certainly higher than those calculated here. Despite these uncertainties, the data reveal that the climate impacts of plastic are real and significant, and they require urgent attention and action to maintain a survivable climate. The report includes recommendations for policymakers, governments, nonprofits, funders, and other stakeholders to help stop the expanding carbon emissions of plastic. The most effective recommendation is simple: immediately reduce the production and use of plastic. Stopping the expansion of petrochemical and plastic production and keeping fossil fuels in the ground are a critical element to address the climate crisis. emissions, and uncertainties that likely lead to underestimation of plastic’s climate impacts. The report compares greenhouse gas emissions estimates against global carbon budgets and emissions commitments, and it considers how current trends and projections will impact our ability to reach agreed emissions targets. This report compiles data, such as downstream emissions and future growth rates, that have not previously been accounted for in widely used climate models. This accounting paints a grim picture: plastic proliferation threatens our planet and the climate at a global scale.
View the report: https://www.ciel.org/plasticandclimate/